Cuba's Private Sector
A couple of days after the closing of the Cuban border, 16,000 private workers, upon sensing danger, requested the labor ministry suspend their licenses so they could avoid paying taxes. That number rose to 119,000, 19% of the private workforce, in a few more days and threatened to annihilate the Cuban economy. The implementation of the global travel restrictions had a devasting impact on the country’s tourism sector, which is the second-largest revenue generator for the island nation. As a result, selective private businesses took a massive hit and the government lost a crucial foundation for foreign exchange. By December 2020, Cuban tourism had fallen by 16.5%, followed by an 11% drop in the country’s GDP. Worried by the lingering economic collapse, the government began opening Cuba’s private sector, providing Cubans with self-employment opportunities and allowing them to operate businesses in added sectors.

What Did the Government Do?

Previously, the communist-led government allowed Cubans to participate in merely 127 officially approved private sector activities. Some of the legalized activities included working as a barber, working in gastronomy or transportation or renting rooms to tourists. To expand the private sector, the government eliminated the previous list of 127 activities. Instead, it created a new list of 124 jobs prohibited in the private sector. The rest of the 2,000 legal activities, which the government recognized, will be open to Cubans. In the past, state-owned businesses have always dominated the Cuban economy. However, the private sector has managed to make a mark over recent years. Presently, 635,000 people occupy the private sector, which is roughly 14% of the Cuban workforce. The introduction of the long-awaited economic reform might increase diversification in the private sector and could spur economic growth for Cuba.

The Effects on Cuba and its People

The economic reform will allow Cubans to partake in additional economic activities. It will help eradicate bureaucracy in the governmental arrangements, as the Cubans will no longer have to manipulate their business documentations to fall under the list of legalized activities. Now, they only have to confirm that they are not running any business from the list of prohibited activities.

Further, the liberalization of the private sector will bring about a change in the career patterns of Cubans. Previously, apart from the underpaid state-run jobs, the only other viable option for Cubans were low-skilled jobs. Now, Cubans will have countless other opportunities in technical fields like engineering and economics. Still, professional fields like medicine, law and teaching could open to state employees only. Additionally, the opening of the private sector will increase employment opportunities, which will rapidly develop the private sector. Private business owners currently make up 13% of Cuba’s workforce. This number will spike due to the relaxation of the private sector.

The Future of Cuba’s Economy

Ricardo Torres, a pro-reform economist at the University of Havana’s Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy, stated that the opening up of Cuba’s private sector will diversify jobs and boost the GDP. This, in turn, triggered a shift in economic arrangements in Cuba. But the chances of the private sector dominating the economy soon are bleak, mainly due to the political settings of Cuba. Therefore, expectations have determined that state-owned businesses will direct the economy. Rather than rushing into free-market forces, the Cuban government must seek inspiration from other countries and establish a solid institutional framework. Several European states, the U.S., Japan and other East Asian countries have proved that by focusing on macro and microeconomic policies and planning and investing in citizens, an economic upliftment should be possible.

Cuba’s Relationship with the US

The economy was booming under the Barack Obama Administration. Things, however, took a turn when former President Donald Trump overturned Obama’s agreement to ease travel restrictions on Cuba. Donald Trump also ended the U.S. cruise travel to Cuba, disallowed many Cuban Americans to send remittances back home, pressured a U.S.-run hotel out of Cuba, forced countries not to hire Cuban doctors and nurses during the pandemic and re-enlisted Cuba on the list of countries that sponsor state terrorism. Cuban businesses suffered a great deal due to this. The labor reform could not have been timelier for the Cuban government as it could present a sturdy case for amendments in the U.S. policy.

One of Obama’s main objectives was to expand the private sector in Cuba. Therefore, on the back of the opening of the private sector and the appointment of Joe Biden as President, the Cuban government can look to persuade the U.S. to consider a policy reform. Although Cuban had to wait a long time for labor reform, it is crucial to mend unemployment rates, boost the GDP and restore Cuba’s unsteady economy through Cuba’s private sector.

– Prathamesh Mantri
Photo: Flickr

The NBA and Africa
The National Basketball Association is changing rapidly. The recipients of many of the awards and accolades handed out for the 2018-2019 season of the NBA epitomized this change. The Most Valuable Player, Giannis Antetokounmpo, is from Greece. The Rookie of the Year, Luka Dončić, is from Spain. The Defensive Player of the Year, Rudy Gobert, is from France. Also, Pascal Siakam, a towering Cameroonian who helped lead the Toronto Raptors to the organization’s first championship, was the league’s Most Improved Player. Basketball is becoming more popular internationally and the sport is attracting players from across the globe who have the potential to be stars. Moreover, the NBA and Africa are closely intertwining due to the organization’s search for skilled African athletes.

Africa’s Untapped Potential

Europe, Asia and South America produce many excellent players, but scouts, recruiters and NBA executives are compelled to draw from the largely untapped potential of Africa. Many want to find the next Pascal Siakam or Joel Embiid. Embiid is a seven-foot-tall Allstar center who grew up in Cameroon, like Siakam. The NBA and Africa are forming a strong relationship. In the search of talent, the NBA is not forgetting the needs of impoverished peoples. Many Africans are educating themselves about the game of basketball and the NBA through youth development camps, community service programs and business events.

In 2018, the NBA held the third ever NBA Africa Game in honor of Nelson Mandela’s legacy and gave back to the community through Basketball Without Borders, BWB, Africa and NBA Cares. It donated the proceeds from the sell-out games to the Nelson Mandela Foundation, UNICEF and other charities. BWB provides 78 of the top male and female youth prospects from 29 African countries the opportunity to develop skills with current and former professional basketball players and coaches, like Joel Embiid. The prospects work on their game, but also learn about important life skills like communication and teamwork. These skills are essential for both basketball and everyday life.

Giving Back

The relationship continues to grow because the NBA and Africa have a lot to offer each other. While the assumption is that Africa could potentially produce many great basketball players, people often understate how community development can provide NBA players and officials with a fulfilling outlet for making the world a better place while gaining a perspective on the struggles of impoverished peoples. In 2017, over 200 volunteers from the NBA went to Lenasia, South Africa and helped build 10 homes for low-income families. Two of the volunteers were Allstar players Kemba Walker and C.J. McCollum. They emphasized how the experience was truly eye-opening and humbling.

The Basketball Africa League

In 2019, the NBA and FIBA, The International Basketball Federation, announced plans to create a professional basketball league in Africa, which would be the first instance of the NBA getting involved in a league outside of North America. The Basketball Africa League will consist of 12 teams from across the continent and former U.S. President, Barack Obama, plans to involve himself with the league’s operations. The NBA and FIBA are going to support the league financially in hopes of expanding the market of basketball across the globe. This league has the potential to be extremely beneficial for the NBA and Africa as it produces both talented players and economic, social and technological opportunities for the continent.

– Grant DeLisle
Photo: Flickr

Former presidents on foreign aidIt is not widely known how much foreign aid is being spent as a part of the national budget, especially because statistics and figures can change dramatically under different administrations and eras. The policies of former presidents on foreign aid can reflect the national and international priorities of the nation itself and what the presidents themselves valued more compared to other factors within the federal budget.

5 Former Presidents on Foreign Aid: Who Spent What?

  1. Harry S. Truman is well-known for the Marshall Plan and the Truman Doctrine. While the Truman Doctrine was to extend economic and military aid to Greece, the Marshall Plan was more inclusive as it was designed to help Western European countries rebuild after World War II, consisting of $13 billion. Other goals achieved through these means were building markets for U.S. businesses and earning allies during the Cold War.
  2. Ronald Reagan believed in budget cuts domestically, but he was a strong advocate for non-military foreign assistance. He promoted the “0.6% of GDP” minimum to be spent on foreign aid, as he believed that such aid plays a large role in foreign policy strategies. Such strategies were to create stronger U.S. allies and to promote economic growth and democracy globally. Reagan also emphasized that it is an American value to provide foreign assistance based on the U.S. founding beliefs that “all men are created equal.”
  3. Jimmy Carter was an advocate for making human rights a priority of the U.S. foreign policy. Not only did he sustain foreign aid, he also made sure to redirect the routes of such aid away from brutal regimes, such as that of Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile-Mariam. He also ensured that foreign aid was an instrument used for luring in more American allies during the Cold War. For instance, by 1980, 75 percent of the total aid designed for Africa were redirected towards the Horn of Africa, as Mengistu was Soviet-backed.
  4. During Barack Obama’s presidency in 2011, figures on foreign aid were reported as being increased by 80 percent when compared to the reports in 2008. Foreign assistance kept increasing from $11.427 billion in 2008 to $20.038 billion in 2010 to $20.599 billion in 2011. During 2011, the aid was split into Economic Support Fund, Foreign Military Financing Program, multilateral assistance, Agency for International Development, Peace Corps and international monetary programs.
  5. In 2002, George W. Bush planned an expansion of 50 percent over the next three years through the Millennium Challenge Account which would provide $5 billion every year to countries where that governed unjustly. Additionally, Bush called for $10 billion to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean over the following five years. There were also emergency funds put aside, consisting of $200 million for famine and $100 million for other complex emergencies.

The policies of former presidents on foreign aid widely reflect their intents and objectives, such as wishing to create more U.S. allies during the Cold War or to stop health epidemics from spreading, like HIV. International assistance can be employed in differing areas of focus that all eventually reach out to help an individual or a community climb out of poverty.

– Nergis Sefer
Photo: Flickr

How All Former U.S. Presidents Fight Global PovertyAll five living former presidents met in Texas on October 22, 2017, the first gathering of all past U.S. leaders since 2013. Their mission was to raise funds for hurricane victims in Florida, Texas, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The event, titled “Deep from the Heart: One America Appeal,” accumulated $31 million towards helping those in need. The former U.S. presidents fight global poverty because they consider the issue too vital to ignore even in retirement.

Here’s how former presidents Jimmy Carter, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama helped foreign nations since leaving office.

Jimmy Carter

Even at age 93, Jimmy Carter works alongside other volunteers outdoors to build houses with Habitat for Humanity. Both Carter and his wife Rosalynn have traveled around the world to raise awareness towards the benefits of affordable housing. Their work encompasses 14 countries and 4,000 built homes.

George Herbert Walker Bush

Both George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton fought a vicious campaign against each other for the presidency in 1992. But all wounds were mended by 2005, when the two former presidents visited Asia to raise money in the wake of a deadly tsunami. The two men also raised more than $100 million to support the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

On the subject of losing the re-election to a member of an opposing party, H.W. Bush commented, “You just can’t go through life with a great deal of bitterness in your heart over something that happened 15 years ago.”

Bill Clinton

In addition to the funds raised after Hurricane Katrina, Clinton established the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in 2005. The CGI gathered Nobel laureates, leading CEOs, philanthropists and more than 200 former heads of state to create Commitments to Action for those in need.

Previous Commitments to Action include an amount of refugees taken in by a country, an installation of solar arrays for a country and advice from major corporations to a country. CGI has aided 180 nations since its genesis.

George W. Bush

October wasn’t the first time the world saw George W. Bush and former U.S. presidents fight global poverty together. Both Bush and Clinton raised funds to provide for Haiti in the wake of the 2010 earthquake.

Bush continued his philanthropy even after his two terms saw the achievement of the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals years ahead of schedule.

Barack Obama

Not even a year after leaving office, Barack Obama advocated for the world to address climate change, poverty and disease. “People wildly overestimate what we spend on foreign aid,” he said, “…It’s a good investment to make countries work.” Obama joined philanthropists Bill and Melinda Gates, Leymah Gbowee and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to urge nations in uniting to combat global poverty.

Seeing all former U.S. presidents fight global poverty reveals the tenacity within each leader. All five men, however, believe that saving the world is a global effort.

Nick Edinger

Photo: Flickr

In 2013, President Barack Obama launched Power Africa, an $8 billion foreign aid program designed to help improve access to electricity in sub-Saharan Africa. It aimed to provide electricity to the region’s 961 million residents, who currently only use as much electricity as New York City. Two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa do not have access to electricity.

Power Africa is adding 60 million new electricity connections and is generating up to 30,000 megawatts of power in six countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania. The project works with local and U.S. partners to improve regulations, build capacity and provide technical assistance. However, two years in, research has shown that Power Africa still faces major hurdles in its implementation.

In Kenya, for instance, the power grid infrastructure has rapidly expanded, covering most of the countryside. However, only 30 percent of Kenya, including just five percent of rural households, have power. Building a bigger infrastructure was not going to be a solution, researchers realized, because connecting to the power grid was much more expensive than what many households could afford. Moreover, Kenya lacked people who could design and construct electrical wiring. Even when a household bought a connection, it still took months to actually get electricity. When they finally did get power, it was extremely unreliable. Power outages would sometimes last for weeks at a time.

Power Africa has not brought any electricity to Nigeria at all. Bickering between government agencies, private companies and foreign governments has slowed projects down in a country that is not able to provide electricity to half of its population. Officials say there have only been conversations about potential projects in the future. The Obama administration has boasted of a few closed deals, but they had already been in the works before the Power Africa initiative.

In such countries, only the wealthy can afford electricity, which they get through the use of private generators. It has even become a status symbol to own one. However, private generators add to these countries’ worsening environmental problems.

President Barack Obama said, “Access to electricity is fundamental to opportunity in this age. It’s the light that children study by; the energy that allows an idea to be transformed into a real business. It’s the lifeline for families to meet their most basic needs. And it’s the connection that’s needed to plug Africa into the grid of the global economy. You’ve got to have power.”

The U.N. predicts that sub-Saharan Africans will make up nearly 25 percent of the world’s population by 2060. Ensuring that this generation has access to electricity in order to expand their economy, improve education and enhance living standards is important to mitigate poverty in future generations. Currently, blackouts are costing sub-Saharan Africa 2.1 percent of their GDP every year.

Radhika Singh

Sources: Reuters, USAID, NY Times 1, NY Times 2
Photo: NY Times

u.s.-africa leaders summit
From August 4 to August 6, the White House is hosting the first ever United States-Africa Leaders Summit. During the summit, U.S. President Barack Obama aims to strengthen ties with Africa’s leaders and engage in conversation on investing in the future of the continent.

The summit, hosts 50 African leaders in good standing with the U.S. and is focused on trade and investment in Africa. They are also discussing food security, availability of clean water and sustainable housing.

With the continent in the midst of a serious Ebola outbreak, some gears may be shifted toward providing reliable healthcare facilities to the millions who suffer from health problems due to impoverished conditions throughout rural Africa.

Healthcare is a hopeful topic of discussion for the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, as the healthcare inequality gap proliferates in both countries. In South Africa, healthcare for the impoverished is increasingly difficult to attain, as no one seems to be making the initial investment to build a hospital where effective healthcare can be provided on a public scale.

Another significant highlight of the summit is climate change. Africa’s rural agriculture relies on the rain. In recent years, Africa has suffered from harsher and more frequent environmental changes, and so Obama has opened a dialogue on implementing sturdier agricultural infrastructure to positively impact food security among African nations.

This has big implications for Africa’s impoverished population, as 65 percent of the entire continent relies on agriculture as their source of livelihood. If environmental conditions can be dealt with more productively, agricultural output will increase. This will have real and beneficial effects on conditions by raising wages and lowering the price of food. Thus, Africa’s impoverished population will have greater buying power.

Obama is also hopeful that his discussions on trading partnerships will have a positive impact on job markets in Africa. In doing this, African companies will be seeking foreign investment and will prove that the continent has more to offer than just commodities and natural resources. If significant investment is secured, many tangible benefits will be brought back to American soil, as these companies will be capable of expanding the economy and beginning to employ Africa’s promising youth.

All in all, the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit has a lot of potential for aiding Africa’s population.

Conner Goldstein

Sources: UCSF,, The World Bank, The Guardian
Photo: The Guardian

Rohingya Muslims
On July 9, the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs held a hearing on human rights in Southeast Asia.

The representatives focused, in particular, on human rights violations in The Republic Union of Myanmar (Burma). Over 100,000 Rohingya Muslims, a minority group in Burma, have been expelled from their homes and placed into internally displaced persons camps.

Republican and Democratic representatives alike recognize the human rights abuses occurring in Burma. The Republican chair of the committee, Representative Ed Royce, drew similarities between IDP camps and concentration camps. Democratic Representative David Cicilline criticized the actions of the government and radical Buddhists. Further, he questioned whether or not the situation could be labeled genocide.

Tom Andrews, a former Democratic congressman and human rights activist, testified that the situation qualifies as genocide.

The House previously took action to protect the rights of the Rohingya in May, when they passed Resolution 418 “urging the Government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya people and respect internationally recognized human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups within Burma.”

Proposed by Representative James McGovern, D-MA, in November 2013, the resolution was co-sponsored by 50 representatives across party lines. The resolution identified the high number of Rohingya expelled from their homes and significant limitations on their access to healthcare, education and general safety, as well as violence toward non-Rohingya Muslims.

Following these observations, the House recommended that the Burmese government make greater progress toward “democracy, constitutional reform, and national reconciliation,” end persecution of the Rohingya and recognize Rohingya citizenship.

The House also called upon the U.S. government to take action by putting “consistent pressure” on the Burmese government to end discrimination and to focus on Burma’s human rights violations when dealing with the government of Burma.

The actions of the House of Representatives starkly contrasts with statements made by President Obama. On May 20, the U.S. President met with President Thein Sein of Myanmar. In public statements, he complimented the increase in democracy and representation of all groups in Myamnar, though the Rhoningya are still not considered citizens.

Though, he did call attention to the “communal violence” inflicted on Muslims, he lauded the government for its successful transition from a military to a civilian-led government and release of political prisoners.

In a speech at West Point on May 28, the president described the U.S. foreign policy in Burma as a success. He stated, “Thanks to the enormous courage of the people in that country, and because we took the diplomatic initiative, American leadership, we have seen political reforms opening a once-closed society; a movement by Burmese leadership away from partnership with North Korea in favor of engagement with America and our allies.”

Though the House called on the president to take action by putting pressure on the Burmese government, the actions of President Obama suggest that the “consistent pressure” will not be intense. Furthermore, this approach suggests that the president does prioritize the image of a democratic government over true democratic governance when considering whether or not a country is a diplomatic success.

Continual pressure on the president, along with continued attention to the increasing human rights violations against the Rohingya Muslims by both citizens and congressional leaders, could push the federal government to take more significant action.

– Tara Wilson

Sources: The White House, Yahoo,, New York Times
Photo: Muslim Village

One of President Obama’s most important initiatives in the Latin American region has been the 100K Strong in the Americas Program. This program was launched in March 2011, and seeks to increase international study in the Western Hemisphere. The idea is to foster a common understanding between the peoples of the Americas in the hopes of bettering inter-American relations.

The Department of State has partnered with the Association of International Educators (NAFSA), and Partners of the Americas, a development agency, in order to realize this vision. The program works by establishing a network of partnerships with foreign governments, universities, and colleges, and the private sector to increase foreign student participation in the U.S. and U.S. student participation in the Americas. The goal of the program is to reach 100,000 Latin American students studying in the U.S. and 100,000 U.S. students studying in Latin America by 2021.

In order to finance this venture, the State Department has set up the 100K Strong in the Americas Innovation Fund, whereby companies can donate money to Latin American and U.S. universities in order to improve cross-cultural student exchange. By current figures, 40,000 U.S. students study in Latin America and the Caribbean while 66,000 Latin American students study in the U.S. each year. Clearly there is work still to be done.

One large obstacle is the fact that many Latin Americans from poorer backgrounds do not have the necessary grasp on the English language that is required to succeed at a U.S. college or university. On the other hand, many U.S. students do not understand or recognize the value of studying abroad at Latin American colleges or universities.

It is hoped that the public-private sector partnership through the Innovation Fund will be able to increase the numbers of students studying in the U.S. and in Latin America.

Through the 100K Strong in the Americas program the U.S. hopes to construct a more understanding relationship between Latin Americans and the U.S. Enhancing cross-cultural contact is necessary for a better working relationship within the hemisphere in the future. By promoting this contact between the future leaders of the Americas, the U.S. is ensuring more successful diplomatic efforts down the line.

– Jeff Meyer

Sources: 100K Strong, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State
Photo: US Embassy

In a Cold War-style competition between the U.S. and Russia, Ukraine’s ousting of President Viktor Yanukovych insinuates that the West, for now, holds the upper hand. Yet saying so could fuel the Russian fire to turn back the current state of affairs.

The conflict began when Yanukovych refused to sign a free-trade agreement between Ukraine and the E.U., instead leaning on inevitable trade ties with its Russian counterpart to the East. Many Ukrainians did not see the appeal. On February 21, in response to violent protests and backlash, Yanukovych gave up responsibility for his country.

Purporting to support a peaceful transition in Ukraine, President Barack Obama and senior officials discussed the situation with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his aides. The main effort emphasized a multibillion-dollar aid package for Ukraine with the International Monetary Fund. Various governments in the European Union support this endeavor, or at least intend to contribute economically to peace in Ukraine.

Ultimately, the goal is to keep Russia from sending troops into the country. Interference by Russia in order to restore a pro-Russian government in Ukraine would be detrimental to all parties involved. United States national security advisor Susan Rice emphasized on an episode of Meet the Press that Russian interference “would be a grave mistake.” Likewise, British Foreign Secretary William Hague stressed the importance of persuading “Russia that this need not be a zero sum game.”

The U.S. and Russia, according to Rice, share hopes for a unified, independent Ukraine that is capable of exercising freedom amongst its people. Obama and Putin jointly aim to see the agreement of February 21 carried out in peaceful terms. Constitutional reforms, near-term elections and a government to bring together the unified desires of the Ukrainian people shall be implemented in due process. These efforts shall reflect “the will of the Ukrainian people and the interests of the United States and Europe,” said Rice.

While Rice did not mention Russian interests, one might hope that continued violence is not among them. Perhaps diplomacy can win this war.

– Jaclyn Stutz 

Sources: Businessweek, Foreign Policy, New York Times, Wall Street Journal
Photo: BASIC

By the end of 2014, the United States is expected to have all of its troops withdrawn from Afghanistan after 13 years of occupation. Public opinion in the U.S. heavily favors troops leaving Afghanistan before the proposed deadline. A majority of Americans now believe that the initial occupation of Afghanistan in 2001 was a mistake.

U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration has stressed the importance of pulling out of Afghanistan for years, but now Obama is trying to land a deal with the Afghan Government that will allow several thousand military personnel, Special Forces troops, and CIA members to stay in the country through 2024. Why would the U.S. effectively ‘end the occupation of Afghanistan’ while leaving behind thousands of workers for the next 10 years? There are two possible explanations that could explain why the U.S. is opting to remain in the region and not just let the Afghan government completely take over.

First, the U.S. government fears that if they leave Afghanistan in the same way they left Iraq, the country could lose ground to al-Qaeda. The Iraqi government has already lost two cities that were considered major wins for the U.S. troops during the fighting in 2004, Fallujah and Ramadi. The U.S. pulled out of Iraq before reaching an agreement between both governments that was similar to what they are working on in Afghanistan. Not securing an agreement meant the U.S. had no control over the political development in Iraq. Al-Qaeda and groups affiliated with al-Qaeda have since begun gaining more ground in the western Anbar province.

Another reason that could be compelling the U.S. to maintain a presence in the region is because the only Middle Eastern Pentagon base is in Afghanistan. Afghanistan is a strategic geopolitical asset for the U.S. It borders Iran, China and Pakistan, so it sits in the center of an area of the world that the U.S has many vested interests. Maintaining top officials in the country can help influence U.S. interests throughout the region.

If the U.S. does not pull all of their officials from the region, there is a possibility of continuing a smaller scale occupation until 2024. On the other hand, if the U.S. completely leaves and al-Qaeda and other military groups regain control of the region, more problems could be created for the U.S. and for citizens of Afghanistan.

Colleen Eckvahl

Sources: The Telegraph, Global Research
Photo: The Telegraph